Language and a Poetics of Collage: Catalina Cariaga's Cultural Evidence

By Xiaojing, Zhou | MELUS, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Language and a Poetics of Collage: Catalina Cariaga's Cultural Evidence


Xiaojing, Zhou, MELUS


Catalina Cariaga is often referred to as a "Language poet" because of her language-centered poetics and experimentation with poetic form. Rather than a retreat into what might seem to be a self-indulgent language game, Cariaga's poetry is resolutely situated in the social, historical, and political. Her interrogation of language and form shares with many Filipino American poets an investigation of colonized subjectivity in relation to cultural imperialism, particularly the imposition of Spanish and English on the Filipinos. Part of this investigation entails the poets' exploration of the possibilities of using the colonizers' language to tell "another tale" (Abad 3).

While Catalina Cariaga's first book of poetry, Cultural Evidence, engages similar issues, its experimental poetics reveals a new phase in the development of Filipino American poetry in both its thematic concerns and technical strategies, especially in its use of language to subvert the ways in which knowledge of the racialized and gendered Other are produced through a binary scheme of representation. Like many Filipino American poets such as Gemino Abad, Michael Melo, Fatima Lim-Wilson, Jessica Hagedorn, and Virginia Cerenio, Cariaga undermines English as the institutionalized instrument of colonization and as the model of official language of the dominant culture to which Filipinos and Filipino Americans must conform in their process of assimilation. (1) But Cariaga also seeks to master English in a way that explores alternative strategies for using language to disrupt what Susan Howe refers to as "total systemic circular knowledge" (28).

Employing a poetics of what has been called "Language-centered writing" or "Language poetry" (Perloff 173), Cariaga subverts naturalized representations of race, gender, class, and culture in seemingly natural, authoritative language. Rather than relying on a conventional mode of narrative or contemplation by the lyric speaker to tell "another tale" from the perspective of the colonized, Cariaga explores the possibilities of collage juxtaposition while developing a language-centered poetics which enables her to accomplish more than what is possible in the form of conventional lyric. By insisting on confronting the ways in which language is used to colonize, racialize, and commodify the Other, her poetics of collage opens up the poetic space to multiple voices and languages and to disjunctive histories, allowing different perspectives, utterances, and words to resonate, generate, or undermine one another.

Cariaga's poems thus enact a politics of writing by foregrounding the structure, the materiality, and the signifying process of language in a way similar to the deployment of language by Language poets, who seek to make "the structures of meaning in language more tangible and in that way allowing for the maximum resonance for the medium" as Charles Bernstein asserts (114). Cariaga's experiments with language and the poetic form are a salient aspect of postmodern poetry, which Laura Hinton and Cynthia Hogue note, distinguishes itself from modernist poetry by "its refusal to naturalize the language of the text." Hinton and Hogue further note in their introduction to We Who Love to Be Astonished: Experimental Women's Writing and Performance Poetics, that "Postmodern poetics foregrounds the text's ability to explore the material and signifying possibilities of the language medium." Interrogating the politics of postmodern poetics, Hinton and Hogue call critical attention to the relationship between avant-garde writing and the "dominant structures of power, of white, class, and or gender privilege" (2).

It is precisely these possibilities of postmodern poetics that Cariaga explores in her poetry. She participates in and contributes to contemporary postmodern feminist poetics through her search for a new poetic language and form to articulate Filipino American and Asian women's multifaceted experience in the contexts of intertwining histories, cultures, and raced, gendered power relations. …

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